Rancho Santa Fe School District to cast a ‘wide net’ for next superintendent

The Rancho Santa Fe School District Board of Trustees set a schedule for the district’s now nationwide superintendent search, aiming to get the best candidate in office by the summer. The schedule was set at a March 24 special meeting.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District superintendent position will be posted from April 1 through April 29 with the American Association of School Administrators, the Association of California School Administrators and EdJoin, a nationwide education job board.

Dr. Peggy Lynch, of superintendent search firm Leadership Associates, will review confidential papers of the candidates and perform background checks along with RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney and district counsel Richard Currier.

On May 12, recommended candidates will be presented to the board in closed session for discussion. Candidate interviews will be scheduled on May 21 and the hope is that the board offers the selected superintendent a contract for the position around June 3.

While the job has not yet been posted, Lynch said she has heard from four people who are interested in the position.

At the board’s April 14 and May 12 meetings, parents will have an opportunity to provide input on the search during public comment. Community members also had a chance to offer their opinions at a March 21 community meeting and through a school-wide survey.

People were invited to participate in the online survey through March 31 and, so far, the district has received 226 responses.

Lynch said at the March 21 meeting, parents and staff members discussed the desired characteristics and qualities of a new superintendent and helped identify district strengths and challenges.

“This will help us as we talk with potential candidates and determine whether they are good matches for the district,” Lynch said.

Input showed people were looking for a superintendent who builds trusting relationships, understands the community, listens to and involves people in decision-making, seeks staff input, delegates to principals and is open in communicating. In a small district like RSF, participants noted that it’s also important that the leader knows a lot about facilities and finances as they will be asked to wear many hats, Lynch said.

High parent involvement was listed as both a strength and a challenge — both parents and staff said that a superintendent needs to support but also stand up to parents.

During public comment, parent Diana Knickrehm expressed some concerns about the process, arguing that parent input should be much more comprehensive. She said that the meeting was not well-publicized and select groups were invited to attend smaller meetings throughout the week that were not open.

Knickrehm said the questions on the survey were also “far too vague.”

Knickrehm asked that the board consider holding a professionally facilitated and open parent forum with Dr. Lynch to solicit feedback to inform the search.

“We have under our noses the best channel for parent input, it’s the parent forum. With regard to getting input from the parents that shape our school’s policies, the parent forum has proven to be the best channel for authentic and broad-based parent input,” Knickrehm said. “In fact, this kind of parent engagement is central to the mission of the parent forum and the board’s avoidance of the parent forum is conspicuous and hurtful. Why?”

Parent Beth Nelson spoke during public comment about the agenda item for the board to “discuss and approve the continuation of the superintendent search.” She noted her comments might have been premature because the way board meetings are held, public comments are given before board discussion, but she wanted to weigh in on whether or not the board should cast a wider net in the superintendent search.

“It would be a big mistake not to. You may in the end go with an internal candidate as your choice, but I think you would be doing them a disservice if you didn’t cast a wide net and look at all of the options,” Nelson said. “In the eyes of a parent, I don’t think your choice will be viewed as legitimate if you don’t search widely and compare them to everyone out there.”

RSF School District Board President Tyler Seltzer said he understood that the agenda item caused some “panic” but stated the reason it was on the agenda was due to the fact that their agreement with Leadership Associates gave them some leeway if the initial survey and parent response had come back with a large majority in favor of an internal candidate.

“If everybody said ‘That’s the person,’ it allowed us the flexibility to not continue to spend money going down the road when there was an obvious answer,” Seltzer said. “So I would hope that the folks that come make public comments, instead of expecting or anticipating the worst, maybe trust that this is on here to allow that flexibility.”